The yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes), known also as hoiho, is a species of penguin endemic to New Zealand.[2][3]

Yellow-eyed penguin
At Curio Bay, Southland District, New Zealand
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Sphenisciformes
Family: Spheniscidae
Genus: Megadyptes
M. antipodes
Binomial name
Megadyptes antipodes
(Hombron & Jacquinot, 1841)

Megadyptes antipodes antipodes
Megadyptes antipodes waitaha
Megadyptes antipodes richdalei

Distribution of yellow-eyed penguin

Previously thought closely related to the little penguin (Eudyptula minor), molecular research has shown it more closely related to penguins of the genus Eudyptes. Like most penguins, it is mainly piscivorous.

The species breeds along the eastern and south-eastern coastlines of the South Island of New Zealand, as well as Stewart Island / Rakiura, Auckland Islands, and Campbell Islands. Colonies on the Otago Peninsula are a popular tourist venue, where visitors may closely observe penguins from hides, trenches, or tunnels.

On the New Zealand mainland, the species has experienced a significant decline over the past 20 years. On the Otago Peninsula, numbers have dropped by 75% since the mid-1990s and population trends indicate the possibility of local extinction in the next 20 to 40 years. While the effect of rising ocean temperatures is still being studied, an infectious outbreak in the mid-2000s played a large role in the drop. Human activities at sea (fisheries, pollution) may have an equal if not greater influence on the species' downward trend.[4]



The yellow-eyed penguin was first described by Jacques Bernard Hombron and Honoré Jacquinot in 1841.

The yellow-eyed penguin is the sole species in the genus Megadyptes. It was previously thought closely related to the little penguin but new molecular research has shown it is more closely related to penguins of the genus Eudyptes. Mitochondrial and nuclear DNA evidence suggests it split from the ancestors of Eudyptes around 15 million years ago. In 2019 the 1.25Gb genome of the species was published as part of the Penguin Genome Consortium,[5][6] and this will help resolve the origins and aid conservation by helping to inform any future breeding programmes.


  • M. a. antipodes, yellow-eyed penguin. The only extant subspecies. Formerly most abundant in the subantarctic Auckland and Campbell Islands, it colonised Stewart Island / Rakiura and part of the South Island after the extinction of the Waitaha penguin.[7]
  • M. a. waitaha, Waitaha penguin. Extinct. Was present in the North Island,[7] South Island,[8][2] Stewart Island,[9] and Codfish Island / Whenua Hou.[8] Last dated to 1347–1529 AD.[7] Archaeological remains indicate that early Polynesian settlers hunted the species and that this, with possible additional predation by Polynesian rats and dogs, was a probable cause of extinction.[9] Described as a new species M. waitaha in 2009,[10] but reclassified as a subspecies M. a. waitaha in studies from 2019[11] and 2022.[12]
  • M. a. richdalei, Richdale's penguin.[2] Extinct. A dwarf subspecies from the Chatham Islands. Last dated after the 13th century. It was hunted to extinction.[11]


Molting yellow-eyed penguin at Oamaru, New Zealand

The yellow-eyed penguin (M. a. antipodes) is most easily identified by the band of pale yellow feathers surrounding its eyes and encircling the back of its head.[13] Its forehead, crown and the sides of its face are slate grey flecked with golden yellow.[14] Its eye is yellow.[2][13] The foreneck and sides of the head are light brown.[2] The back and tail are slate blue-black.[2][14] Its chest, stomach, thighs and the underside of its flippers are white in colour.[2] Juvenile birds have a greyer head with no yellow band around their eyes.[13]

It is the largest living penguin to breed on the mainland of New Zealand and the fourth or fifth heaviest living penguin going on body mass.[2][15] It stands 62–79 centimetres (24–31 in) tall and weighs 3–8.5 kilograms (6.6–18.7 lb).[2][16] Weight varies throughout the year, with penguins being heaviest just before moulting, during which they may lose 3-4 kilograms in weight.[17] Males at around 5.53 kg (12.2 lb) on average are somewhat heavier than females at an average of 5.13 kg (11.3 lb).[15][16][18]

The yellow-eyed penguin may be long lived, with some individuals reaching 20 years of age. Males are generally longer lived than females, leading to a sex ratio of 2:1 around the age of 10–12 years.[19]

The yellow-eyed penguin is mostly silent.[2] It makes a shrill bray-like call at nest and breeding sites.[3]

Distribution and habitat

Juvenile in The Catlins, New Zealand

Until recently, it was assumed that M. a. antipodes was widespread and abundant before the arrival of Polynesian settlers in New Zealand. However, genetic analysis has since revealed that its range only expanded to include mainland New Zealand in the past 200 years. Yellow-eyed penguins expanded out of the subantarctic to replace New Zealand's endemic Waitaha penguin (M. waitaha). The Waitaha penguin became extinct between about 1300 and 1500, soon after Polynesian settlers arrived in New Zealand.[10][20] Jeremy Austin, a member of the team that discovered the Waitaha penguin, said, "Our findings demonstrate that yellow-eyed penguins on mainland New Zealand are not a declining remnant of a previous abundant population, but came from the subantarctic relatively recently and replaced the extinct Waitaha penguin."[21]

A dwarf subspecies from the Chatham Islands, M. a. richdalei, is extinct.[11] The modern population of yellow-eyed penguins does not breed on the Chatham Islands.

Today, yellow-eyed penguins are found in two distinct populations.[22] The northern population extends along the southeast coast of the South Island of New Zealand, down to Stewart Island / Rakiura and Codfish Island / Whenua Hou.[2] It includes four main breeding areas in Banks Peninsula, North Otago, Otago Peninsula and the Catlins. It is also referred to as the mainland population.[3] The southern population includes the subantarctic Auckland Islands and Campbell Island / Motu Ihupuku.[22] There is little gene flow between the northern and southern populations as the large stretch of ocean between the South Island and subantarctic region and the subtropical convergence act as a natural barrier.[23] Based on monitoring between 2012-2017, there are on average 577 breeding pairs per year on Enderby Island in the Auckland Islands, which comprise 37-49% of the total breeding population for the species.[24]




A family of yellow-eyed penguin at the Penguin Place Lodge at Otago Peninsula, Dunedin, New Zealand

Whether yellow-eyed penguins are colonial nesters has been an ongoing point of debate among zoologists in New Zealand. Most Antarctic penguin species nest in large, high density aggregations of birds; in contrast, yellow-eyed penguins do not nest within sight of each other. While they can be seen coming ashore in groups of four to six or more individuals, they then disperse along tracks to individual nest sites up to one kilometre inland.[25][26] Accordingly, the consensus among New Zealand penguin workers is to use habitat rather than colony to refer to areas where yellow-eyed penguins nest.

First breeding occurs at three to four years of age and long-term partnerships are formed. Nest sites are selected in August and normally two eggs are laid in September. The incubation duties (lasting 39–51 days) are shared by both parents, who may spend several days on the nest at a time. For the first six weeks after hatching, the chicks are guarded during the day by one parent while the other is at sea feeding. The foraging adult returns at least daily to feed the chicks and relieve the partner. After the chicks are six weeks of age, both parents go to sea to supply food to their rapidly growing offspring. Chicks usually fledge in mid-February and are totally independent from then on. Chick fledge weights are generally between 5 and 6 kg.


A yellow-eyed penguin diving to the seafloor and catching an opalfish off the Otago Peninsula

Around 90% of the yellow-eyed penguin's diet is made up of fish, chiefly demersal species that live near the seafloor, including silversides (Argentina elongata), blue cod (Parapercis colias), red cod (Pseudophycis bachus), and opalfish (Hemerocoetes monopterygius).[27][28] Other species taken are New Zealand blueback sprat (Sprattus antipodum) and cephalopods such as arrow squid (Nototodarus sloanii). They also eat some crustaceans, including krill (Nyctiphanes australis). Recently, jellyfish were found to be targeted by the penguins. While initially thought that the birds would prey on jellyfish itself,[29] deployments of camera loggers revealed that the penguins were going after juvenile fish and fish larvae associated with jellyfish.[30]

Breeding penguins usually undertake two kinds of foraging trips: day trips where the birds leave at dawn and return in the evening ranging up to 25 km from their colonies, and shorter evening trips during which the birds are seldom away from their nest longer than four hours or range farther than 7 km.[31] Yellow-eyed penguins are known to be an almost exclusive benthic forager that searches for prey along the seafloor. Accordingly, up to 90% of their dives are benthic dives.[31] This also means that their average dive depths are determined by the water depths within their home ranges,[32] but can swim up to 240 meters below the water surface.[33]


Yellow-eyed penguins on Otago Peninsula

The yellow-eyed penguin is considered one of the rarest penguin species in the world.[34] It is listed on the IUCN Red List as being endangered. It was first included on the list in 1988 when it was listed as threatened. Its status has since been changed to endangered in the year 2000.[35]

It had an estimated population of 4000 in 2007. The main threats include habitat degradation and introduced predators. It may be the most ancient of all living penguins.[36]

A reserve protecting more than 10% of the mainland population was established at Long Point in the Catlins in November 2007 by the Department of Conservation and the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust.[37][38]

In August 2010, the yellow-eyed penguin was granted protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.[39]


Penguin calling at Curio Bay, New Zealand

In spring 2004, a previously undescribed disease killed off 60% of yellow-eyed penguin chicks on the Otago Peninsula and in North Otago. The disease has been linked to an infection of Corynebacterium, a genus of bacteria that also causes diphtheria in humans. It has been described as diphtheritic stomatitis and the pathogen identified.[40] A similar problem has affected the Stewart Island population.[41] Treatment of chicks in hospital has proven successful with 88% of 41 chicks treated in 2022 surviving.[42]



Several mainland habitats have hides and are relatively accessible for those wishing to watch the birds come ashore. These include beaches at Oamaru, the Moeraki lighthouse, a number of beaches near Dunedin, and the Catlins. In addition, commercial tourist operations on Otago Peninsula also provide hides to view yellow-eyed penguins. However, the yellow-eyed penguin cannot be found in zoos because it will not reproduce in captivity.[43]

In culture



  1. ^ BirdLife International (2020). "Megadyptes antipodes". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2020: e.T22697800A182703046. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22697800A182703046.en. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Yellow-eyed penguin". New Zealand Birds Online. Archived from the original on 11 August 2022. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
  3. ^ a b c "Yellow-eyed penguin/hoiho". Archived from the original on 29 September 2019. Retrieved 29 September 2019.
  4. ^ Mattern T, Meyer S, Ellenberg U, Houston DM, Darby JD, Young M, van Heezilk Y, Seddon PJ (2017). "Quantifying climate change impacts emphasises the importance of managing regional threats in the endangered Yellow-eyed penguin". PeerJ. 5: e3272. doi:10.7717/peerj.3272. PMC 5436559. PMID 28533952.
  5. ^ Pan, Hailin; Cole, Theresa L.; Bi, Xupeng; Fang, Miaoquan; Zhou, Chengran; Yang, Zhengtao; Ksepka, Daniel T.; Hart, Tom; Bouzat, Juan L.; Argilla, Lisa S.; Bertelsen, Mads F.; et al. (1 September 2019). "High-coverage genomes to elucidate the evolution of penguins". GigaScience. 8 (9). doi:10.1093/gigascience/giz117. PMC 6904868. PMID 31531675.
  6. ^ Pan, H.; Cole, T.; et al. (2019). "Genomic data from Yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes antipodes)". GigaScience Database. doi:10.5524/102172. Archived from the original on 27 October 2023. Retrieved 27 October 2023.
  7. ^ a b c Rawlence, Nicolas J., et al. "Radiocarbon-dating and ancient DNA reveal rapid replacement of extinct prehistoric penguins Archived 28 March 2024 at the Wayback Machine". Quaternary Science Reviews 112 (2015): 59–65.
  8. ^ a b Checklist Committee, Ornithological Society of New Zealand (2010). Checklist of the Birds of New Zealand, Norfolk and Macquarie Islands, and the Ross Dependency, Antarctica (PDF) (4th ed.). Wellington, New Zealand: Te Papa Press in association with the Ornithological Society of New Zealand. ISBN 978-1-877385-59-9. Archived (PDF) from the original on 16 June 2013. Retrieved 17 May 2022 – via New Zealand Birds Online.
  9. ^ a b "Waitaha penguin | New Zealand Birds Online". Archived from the original on 22 May 2022. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  10. ^ a b Boessenkool, Sanne; Austin, Jeremy J; Worthy, Trevor H; Scofield, Paul; Cooper, Alan; Seddon, Philip J; Waters, Jonathan M (7 March 2009). "Relict or colonizer? Extinction and range expansion of penguins in southern New Zealand". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 276 (1658): 815–821. doi:10.1098/rspb.2008.1246. ISSN 0962-8452. PMC 2664357. PMID 19019791.
  11. ^ a b c Cole, T.L.; Ksepka, D.T.; Mitchell, K.J.; Tennyson, A.J.; Thomas, D.B.; Pan, H.; Zhang, G.; Rawlence, N.J.; Wood, J.R.; Bover, P.; Bouzat, J.L. (2019). "Mitogenomes uncover extinct penguin taxa and reveal island formation as a key driver of speciation". Molecular Biology and Evolution. 36 (4): 784–797. doi:10.1093/molbev/msz017. PMID 30722030.
  12. ^ Cole, Theresa L.; Zhou, Chengran; Fang, Miaoquan; Pan, Hailin; Ksepka, Daniel T.; Fiddaman, Steven R.; Emerling, Christopher A.; Thomas, Daniel B.; Bi, Xupeng; Fang, Qi; Ellegaard, Martin R.; Feng, Shaohong; Smith, Adrian L.; Heath, Tracy A.; Tennyson, Alan J. D. (19 July 2022). "Genomic insights into the secondary aquatic transition of penguins". Nature Communications. 13 (1): 3912. Bibcode:2022NatCo..13.3912C. doi:10.1038/s41467-022-31508-9. hdl:11250/3049871. ISSN 2041-1723. PMC 9296559. PMID 35853876.
  13. ^ a b c Heather, B. D. (Barrie D.) (22 April 2015). The field guide to the birds of New Zealand. Robertson, Hugh A. (Hugh Alexander), 1957-, Onley, Derek J. (Revised and updated ed.). [Auckland] New Zealand: Penguin Random House. ISBN 9780143570929. OCLC 946520191.
  14. ^ a b "Yellow-eyed penguin biology". Penguin Rescue. Archived from the original on 29 September 2019. Retrieved 29 September 2019.
  15. ^ a b Dunning, John B. Jr., ed. (2008). CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses (2nd ed.). CRC Press. ISBN 978-1-4200-6444-5.
  16. ^ a b Marion, Remi, Penguins: A Worldwide Guide. Sterling Publishing Co. (1999), ISBN 0-8069-4232-0
  17. ^ "Moulting". Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust. Archived from the original on 29 September 2019. Retrieved 29 September 2019.
  18. ^ "Introduced Mammals" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 March 2016. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
  19. ^ Richdale, L (1957). A population study of penguins. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  20. ^ "Sentinels of change: prehistoric penguin species raise conservation conundrum". Sciblogs. Archived from the original on 1 October 2019. Retrieved 29 September 2019.
  21. ^ "New penguin species found in New Zealand". Archived from the original on 9 October 2016. Retrieved 22 April 2022.
  22. ^ a b "Distribution and habitat". Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust. Archived from the original on 29 September 2019. Retrieved 29 September 2019.
  23. ^ Boessenkool, Sanne; Star, Bastiaan; Waters, Jonathan M.; Seddon, Philip J. (June 2009). "Multilocus assignment analyses reveal multiple units and rare migration events in the recently expanded yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes)". Molecular Ecology. 18 (11): 2390–2400. Bibcode:2009MolEc..18.2390B. doi:10.1111/j.1365-294X.2009.04203.x. PMID 19457203. S2CID 205361804.
  24. ^ Muller, Christopher G.; Chilvers, Louise; French, Rebecca K.; Hiscock, Johanna A.; Battley, Phil F. (1 January 2020). "Population estimate for yellow-eyed penguins (Megadyptes antipodes) in the subantarctic Auckland Islands, New Zealand". Notornis. 67 (1): 299–319. Archived from the original on 7 May 2024. Retrieved 7 January 2024.
  25. ^ Grzelewski, Derek (January–February 2004). "Hoiho—still on the brink". New Zealand Geographic. Archived from the original on 17 July 2021. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  26. ^ Darby, John T (17 April 2003). "The yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) on Stewart and Codfish Islands" (PDF). Notornis. 50: 152. Archived (PDF) from the original on 24 February 2021. Retrieved 22 July 2021.
  27. ^ Moore, P.J.; Wakelin, M.D. 1997: Diet of the yellow-eyed penguin Megadyptes antipodes, South Island, New Zealand, 1991-1993. Marine Ornithology 25:17-29
  28. ^ "Megadyptes antipodes - yellow-eyed penguin". Animal Diversity Web. Archived from the original on 20 January 2023. Retrieved 2 September 2023.
  29. ^ Thiebot, Jean-Baptiste; Arnould, John PY; Gómez-Laich, Agustina; Ito, Kentaro; Kato, Akiko; Mattern, Thomas; Mitamura, Hiromichi; Noda, Takuji; Poupart, Timothée; Quintana, Flavio; Raclot, Thierry (2017). "Jellyfish and other gelata as food for four penguin species - insights from predator-borne videos". Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 15 (8): 437–441. Bibcode:2017FrEE...15..437T. doi:10.1002/fee.1529.
  30. ^ Mattern, Thomas; Ellenberg, Ursula; Heezik, Yolanda Van; Seddon, Philip J (2017). Penguins hunting jellyfish: main course, side dish or decoration?. doi:10.13140/RG.2.2.22929.33123.
  31. ^ a b Mattern, T.; Ellenberg, U.; Houston, D.M.; Davis, L.S. 2007: Consistent foraging routes and benthic foraging behaviour in yellow-eyed penguins. Marine Ecology Progress Series 343: 295-306
  32. ^ Mattern, T.; Ellenberg, U.; Houston, D.M.; Lamare, M.; van Heezik, Y.; Seddon, P.J., Davis, L.S. 2013: The Pros and Cons of being a benthic forager: How anthropogenic alterations of the seafloor affect Yellow-eyed penguis. Keynote presentation. 8th International Penguin Conference, Bristol, UK. 2–6 September 2013
  33. ^ Heather, B. D.; Robertson, Hugh A. (2000). The field guide to the birds of New Zealand (Rev. ed.). Auckland, N.Z: Viking. p. 227. ISBN 0670893706.
  34. ^ "Population and recent trends". Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust. Archived from the original on 29 September 2019. Retrieved 29 September 2019.
  35. ^ "The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Archived from the original on 4 March 2020. Retrieved 29 September 2019.
  36. ^ Other Penguin Species Archived 10 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine. Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust. Accessed 28 November 2007.
  37. ^ Gwyneth Hyndman, Land set aside for yellow-eyed penguin protection in Catlins Archived 6 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine. The Southland Times, Wednesday, 28 November 2007.
  38. ^ 12km coastal reserve declared for yellow-eyed penguins Archived 13 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Radio New Zealand News, 27 November 2007.
  39. ^ Five Penguins Win U.S. Endangered Species Act Protection Archived 28 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine Turtle Island Restoration Network
  40. ^ Saunderson, SC; Nouioui, I; Midwinter, AC; Wilkinson, DA; Young, MJ; McInnes, KM; Watts, J; Sangal, V (29 June 2021). "Phylogenomic Characterization of a Novel Corynebacterium Species Associated with Fatal Diphtheritic Stomatitis in Endangered Yellow-Eyed Penguins". mSystems. 6 (3): e0032021. doi:10.1128/mSystems.00320-21. PMC 8269222. PMID 34100641.
  41. ^ Kerrie Waterworth, Mystery illness strikes penguins Archived 6 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine, Sunday Star Times, 25 November 2007.
  42. ^ "Hoiho numbers remain disappointing" (PDF). Hoiho: 2–3. May 2022. ISSN 1179-2981. OCLC 378525263. Archived (PDF) from the original on 28 October 2022. Retrieved 28 October 2022.
  43. ^ "Yellow-eyed Penguins". Penguin Pedia. Archived from the original on 3 July 2019. Retrieved 8 July 2019.
  44. ^ "$5 - Reserve Bank of New Zealand". Archived from the original on 12 May 2023. Retrieved 29 September 2019.
  45. ^ "Rubbish and Recycling - Services". Dunedin City Council. Archived from the original on 18 February 2013. Retrieved 14 March 2011.
  46. ^ "Bird of the year: Hoiho takes the title". The New Zealand Herald. 10 November 2019. ISSN 1170-0777. Archived from the original on 17 November 2019. Retrieved 17 November 2019.